Monday, October 29, 2012

Denialist's Farmers Market & Swap Meet

♫♪What's new at Denialist's Farmers Market & Swap Meet? ♫♪
♫♪What's new with Denialists... this week?♫♪ 
♫♪What's new at Denialist's Farmers Market & Auction? ♫♪
♫♪What's new with Denialists... let's take a peek! ♫♪

From climate change to vaccines, evolution to flu, Denialists are on the rise. So, why is it that so many people refuse to accept scientific evidence in favor of ancient religious and ceremonial rights practiced by Neanderthals and Homo heidelbergensis, hominids who deliberately disposed of deceased individuals in funerary caches? 

Clearly, there are lines we must draw between denial and skepticism, but how do we tell them apart? Typically, the Denialist obstinately holds onto beliefs; refusing to listen to any new evidence. Skeptics are merely inclined to question or doubt everyone's opinions. 

Throughout history skeptics have also denied the possibility of knowledge, or even rational belief. The leading ancient skeptic was Pyrrho, doubting that any knowledge about the external world was possible. The main difference between skeptics and Denialists is that Denialists take a position in advance of sorting through the data. They then processed new data simply as evidence for pre-existing beliefs - contrary data is ignored or dismissed. 

While skepticism is integral to the scientific process, denial is different. It is the automatic naysaying of a claim regardless of any new information. This is where conspiracy theories seem to arise. 

Have you HEARD the news? The swine flu pandemic was a hoax: scientists and governments are in cahoots with the World Health Organization who, having investments in pharmaceutical companies, just wanted to make a fast buck. (According to Expert Testimony from the Center for Stuff I Heard from Some Guy Who Lives Down the Street from a Friend of a Friend of Mine.)

Every day people concoct conspiracy theories and spread them around social networking sites, which then spread like wild fire. This is an example of denialism, the systematic rejection of science in favor of make-believe. From evolution to global warming, vacciness and the flu. But what motivates people to retreat from the real world into fantastical denial? 

Faith. You can't beat faith as a corporate strategy. Manufacturing doubt, a tactic of the Tobacco industry, is a brilliantly executed defense strategy. While healthy doubt can lead to more objective scientific research, it can also lead to millions of people believing that it is perfectly healthy to smoke. Misusing language confuses the public with shocking success. These techniques are only limited by one's own imagination, and imaginary stories in lieu of proof have been a 5,000-year old favorite pass-time of our species - a habit not easily broken. 

While it's easy to spot a lie, it's not always easy to eradicate it from people's minds. 

"We use less than 10% of our brains." 

The truth is our only friend. Responding to Denialists is a perennial challenge. The best advice I've ever been given is to allow someone the opportunity to be heard. Examine the evidence they offer, consider their interpretations, and look for substance. If it appears that after exhaustive evidence someone still wishes to deny facts, simply smile and change the subject. 

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